It may not be a double-blind study, but this poll of thousands of Americans conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health has some pretty damning – and alarming – evidence in store for us Americans:
We are stressed out.
Not just a little bit.
But to a frightening degree.
I feel two very strong, antithetical emotions when I look at this data. On one hand, I feel so much sorrow for all of us stuck in vicious stress cycles. I am saddened, and hurt, and I wish desperately I could make it all better. On the other hand, it’s kind of comforting to look at this data, and to know that I am not alone.
50 % of respondents reported a major stressful event in the past year.
More than 25 % reported being significantly stressed within the past month. When we combine these two statistics, we get the very real conclusion that many people are under significant chronic stress.
There are many fascinating graphs over at the NPR website. I recommend you check them out. They’re good for learning. For example, one piece of data I find particularly interesting, and quite funny, even, is this:
By age group, it’s the 20-somethings who are the most stressed out by having too much responsibility.
I guess it takes some time to adjust to, but I’d imagine having a spouse, children, aging parents to take care of, mortgages, and empoloyees… many of the responsibilities that come later on in adulthood, is a fair bit more pressing than what most people have going on in their twenties.
Like making sure to buy groceries over the weekend and showing up for work on Monday.
Not like I can do any hating, since I am a significantly stressed 20-something. I’d like to excuse myself, on the other hand, or at least get a giant tattoo on my forehead about it, because the vast majority of my stress comes from my heart/kidney issues, which give me palpitations, anxiety, and insomnia.
And I know, I know, I can’t judge anyway. Life as an adult is hard, and it hits you like a freight train when you first try to do it.
Regardless, the source of my stress – my health – brings up the most important and relevant factor for the PfW blog. Of all the respondents surveyed, those who suffer from disabilities or health conditions are the most likely to be stressed. As we would expect, those with health conditions score the highest in reporting stress from their own health conditions (80%). But they also report the highest amount of stress from nearly all other sources, too.
|Overall||Chronic illness||Disabled||In poor health|
|Too many responsibilities overall||54%||53%||53%||63%|
|Problems with finances||53%||58%||64%||69%|
|Own health problems||38%||51%||65%||80%|
|Family health problems||37%||46%||50%||58%|
|Problems with family members||32%||38%||37%||26%|
|Unhappy with the way you look||28%||38%||33%||46%|
|Problems with friends||15%||16%||19%||n/a|
|Changes in family situation||10%||11%||11%||10%|
|Problems with neighbors||7%||5%||7%||4%|
(The graphs are prettier at NPR – go look!)
The far left column is “overall.” The far right is “in poor health.” Taking a look at the above graph, then, we see that, overwhemlingly, those in poor health rank far above the average in just about every category of stress.
It’s not just our health conditions themselves that directly stress us out…
but our health conditions that make everything else stressful, too.
Now, you might ask: is there not a problem in the inference I am making between correlation and causation? Am I drawing a cause and effect relationship where there isn’t one? Perhaps it is a coincidence that people in poor health are more stressed by all stressors than other people. Perhaps people who have stressful situations also develop poor health! Perhaps people who don’t have their shit together just don’t have their shit together, in all categories.
Perhaps, I’d say. Perhaps that is possible.
One piece of data that might support the hypothesis that “just not having your shit together” is the fact that people who earn under $20,000/year also report much greater stress than those who earn more. Without much income, it’s much more likely you’ll eat an unhealthy diet, develop health conditions, and struggle to get the medical and nutritional support you need. It’s also much easier to lose your grip on everything without money. Financial stress bears on the ability to do just about everything in society today.
Nonetheless what these stats and questions all invariably demonstrate is that stress and poor health go hand in hand. If you’re stressed, you might get sick. If you’re sick, you’re almost definitely going to get stressed out by it.
And, if you’re sick, there’s a good chance other aspects of your life will become more challenging, too. Sometimes it’s harder to work. Sometimes it’s harder to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships. Sometimes it’s plain old harder to deal, such that even small stressors end up feeling like monumental weights. Poor health very quickly leads to “not having your shit together” syndrome.
And boy, oh boy, do I ever know what that feels like.
The evidence is in for health and happiness, and damning.
Is there a takeaway message? I don’t know.
The best I know that I can personally do with it is have forgiveness for the anxiety I feel, and to move forward working on my health issues with patience, knowing that easier times in many regards are likely ahead.
(Statistically, they’ve just got to be.)
I think.Read More
The following is a guest post by a fellow health blogger – Kate – who had an infertility problem then fell in love with leptin.
I used to have a bit of a body fat phobia. Although at 13% body fat, I didn’t really have that much to worry about from what other people would think. I was impressive right?
Problem was, along with no body fat, I also had no period, no ovulation, and, no fertility. I was diagnosed with hypothalamic amenorrhea. I looked “healthy”, but my reproductive dysfunction indicated otherwise. I knew I had to get this sorted, and fast, as my partner and I were trying to conceive.
I consulted a few of my health practitioner friends. They all suggested that maybe putting on a bit of body fat might help kick things back into gear. As a group fitness instructor who was paid to stand up in front of others in skimpy lycra, this was the last thing I wanted to do. Being the stubborn person I was, I needed justification as to why, and how, fat would help to restore my fertility. Cue leptin.
Leptin is one of the more recently discovered hormones and is often referred to as the “anti-obesity” hormone. In fact, the word “leptin” is derived from the Greek term “leptos” meaning “thin”. This little hormone, which is produced predominantly in adipocytes (fat cells), conveys information to the brain about the amount of energy available in the body. Leptin levels rise with increasing food intake, telling the brain “Yay! All is well. We have sufficient nutrients to do our thang”, and the fall in times of food deprivation, telling the brain “Things aren’t so good. Looks like we’re in a famine and need to shut off non-vital functions”. Unfortunately, reproduction is one of those non-vital functions. We do not need to reproduce in order to survive. Simple as that.
But really, it’s not as simple as that.
We now know that leptin acts as more than just an energy thermostat. Indeed there are over 19,000 papers that have been published on leptin (no, I have not read them all, sorry), showing that leptin has various physiological roles. But back to the case in point – aside from signaling energy sufficiency to my brain, how would body fat and, as a by product of increased body fat, leptin help me to recover from hypothalamic amenorrhea and restore my fertility?
That depends on what’s going on during a healthy menstrual cycle.
During the first half of the cycle, otherwise known as the “follicular phase”, follicles (in the ovaries, which house an egg that has the potential to be fertilized) develop. The pituitary gland releases Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) to, as the name suggests, stimulate the follicles to mature and secrete estrogen, which will have the lovely effect of producing fertile cervical mucus. Sorry, we’re getting graphic now.
Once FSH and estrogen have things looking all fertile and sexy, the pituitary gland releases Luteinizing Hormone (LH) to stimulate ovulation, where an egg will burst out of a follicle and wait patiently (for about 12-24hrs…pretty impatient, really) to be fertilized. Meanwhile, the follicle that was left behind becomes the corpus luteum, which secretes progesterone and prepares your body to house a mini-human (think pro-gestation).
So FSH and LH (also called gonadotropins) are pretty important. Without them, your sex organs would not receive the message to produce your sex hormones, or to ovulate, or to menstruate. But we are missing an important step. FSH and LH need a little encouragement too, and this comes in the form of another hormone – Gonadotopin Releasing Hormone (GnRH), which is released by the hypothalamus. Are you lost yet? Female hormones are confusing! Quick recap – GnRH stimulates the release of FSH and LH, which promote ovarian function and a healthy menstrual cycle.
Now here’s the kicker – leptin has been found to play a regulatory role on GnRH secretion and hence, overall reproductive function. Whether this is a direct or indirect role remains to be discovered. However, what we do know is that women with hypothalamic amenorrhea (when menstruation ceases due to dysfunctional signals between the hypothalamus and the pituitary) tend to have lower leptin levels than women with healthy, ovulatory cycles, as a result of low body fat and/or increased physical activity and/or insufficient food intake often found in amenorrheic women. These low levels of leptin then contribute to alterations in GnRH secretion, as evidenced by disruptions to LH secretion (Ackerman et al, Goumenoua et al). Interesting, right? Thought so.
Now I know what you’re thinking – what happens if we give someone leptin? Will that get things back on track? Well yes, Welt et al (2004) treated a small number (n=8) of women with hypothalamic amenorrhea with leptin over a period of 3 months and found that the treatment did restore menstruation, ovulation and hence, fertility.
Similarly, Mantzoros et al (2011) boasted this: “Our results indicate that leptin therapy resulted in resumption of menses….in 70% of the subjects [and] 60% of these women also ovulated”
Woo hoo! Let’s all go and get us some leptin to inject….
OR we could just eat more, exercise less and embrace our booty!?
[Stefani notes: You cannot get leptin over-the-counter, or have it tested for in a blood test. I’ve tried both.]
After 2 years of being in denial about the importance of body fat and desperately holding on to my 8-pack abs, which I had thought was my defining feature, I succumbed. I put on (quite) a bit of body fat. I ate more. I exercised less. And I realized that my friends and family probably loved me for more than just my body. Doctor Seuss was right after all when he said:
Smart man that Dr Seuss.
I put on weight. That was the goal, after all. And I definitely was no longer 13% body fat, as evidenced by my increasing bust line (yay) and decreasing (absent) thigh gap (also yay, I think – that shit is just not normal for my body.). One other lovely effect – my period returned. Hurrah! It just goes to show that with a little dedication and a (pretty big) mental shift, beautiful things can happen.
Ladies – your period is a luxury, not a right, and definitely not an inconvenience! If your lady holiday is MIA, see it as the canary in the coalmine and do something about it before the shit really hits the fan (think osteoporosis, heart problems and infertility). Stop trying to reach some warped perception of the “ideal” body and start embracing your natural feminine curves. And remember – you are so much more than what you look like. Be kind to yourself for once.
References for all you fellow nerds out there:
- Ackerman, K.E. et al. (2012) “Higher ghrelin and lower leptin secretion are associated with lower LH secretion in young amenorrheic athletes compared with eumenorrheic athletes and controls”, The American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism, 302: E800–E806
- Goumenoua, A.G. et al. (2003) “The role of leptin in fertility”, European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, 106:118-124
- Holtkamp, K. et al. (2003) “Reproductive function during weight gain in anorexia nervosa. Leptin represents a metabolic gate to gonadotropin secretion”, Journal of Neural Transmission 110: 427–435
- Mantzoros, C.S. et al. (2011) “Leptin in Human Physiology and Pathophysiology”, The American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism, 301: E567–E584
- Moschos, S. et al. (2002) “Leptin and reproduction: a review”, Fertility and Sterility, 77(3): 433-444
- Quennell, J.H. et al. (2009) “Leptin Indirectly Regulates Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone Neuronal Function”, Endocrinology, 150(6):2805–2812
- Rexford, S.A (2004) “Body Fat, Leptin and Hypothalamic Amenorrhea”, New England Journal of Medicine, 351 (10): 959-962
Kate is a Holistic Nutritionist, Personal Trainer and Lifestyle Coach specializing in hormone healing. Kate has over 13 years of experience in the health and fitness industry. She is passionate about helping others achieve optimal wellness through nutrient-dense traditional whole-foods, adopting mindful and sustainable life practices, and moving in ways which rejuvenate rather than deteriorate the body. Kate’s goal is to educate, inspire and empower others to live life to the fullest each and every day. Kate can be reached at www.theholisticnutritionist.com
If you have been living anywhere other than under a rock for the last several years, you have probably heard the name Diane Sanfilippo. Diane is the author of two (!) New York Times selling books, Practical Paleo and The 21 Day Sugar Detox. She also happens to be one of the people I am indebted to for my success in the paleo world, as in my first few months as a blogger she brought me onto her and Liz’s podcast and told people to pay attention. Humbling, to say the least.
She’s an amazing and brilliant woman and an incredibly sincere, supportive colleague and friend.
And lots of other cool things I could keep listing.
Anyway. I’ve brought up Diane’s Sugar Detox plan before. When I was in the throes of recovering from a punishing, self-destructive 2 months of 3 hours of sleep each night… which took months of its own, by the way… I decided that I needed help overcoming my dependency on sugar. I knew that I needed sugar, to an extent, because my adrenals were taxed and I needed to fuel them as best as I could. I also knew that I needed to get off of it, as it was impeding my ability to have stable energy in the long run.
Thankfully I already had two copies of the 21 Day Sugar Detox. It was… the perfect friend I needed at the time. It told me a bit more than I already knew about blood sugar regulation, and it gave me the structure I needed to recapture energy I had lost.
So in the last few weeks Diane has amped up the resources available in those books to the 1000000th degree.
There are meal plans and audio support files and special guides for autoimmunity and athletes and extra cookbooks and special memberships and yoga guides and pilates guides and access to full-time 21 Day Sugar Detox experts.
Here is a picture of some of the stuff Diane offers:
And what I love most about it all is that this is a program focused on cultivating loyalty. It doesn’t just throw a list of paleo foods at you. Instead, it takes you by the hand, heals you physically, and in doing so helps heal you psychologically. It’s gets you off the sugar monster, and on the road to loving partnership and kicking ass with your body.
Pretty cool stuff.
You can read all about it (the website is stunning… I like to go look at it just to look at it)… here.
Also there appears to be a free 4 part video series?
Check that out @ here, or click the banner below:
One thing about being a health blogger that drives me nuts is being asked about supplements. Mostly I don’t like it because I never know what to do or say. According to some studies, certain supplements have certain benefits for certain people, but according to other studies the effects are more ambiguous.
How can I give a blanket recommendation? Even in specific cases I am wary. Some people need heavy doses and others need very little. Julia Ross says sometimes people only need to touch a pill to the tip of their tongues for the right dosage.
Another thing that I don’t like about supplements is the herbal class. Magnesium citrate — okay, yes, I know what that is and it’s specific chemical formula.
But chasteberry? Spearmint? Holy basil?
There are very few rigorous studies done on herbal supplements. This is particularly important for fertility, as just about every herb is recommended for some sort of fertility-related use, but only credible via anecdotal evidence and tradition.
The only thing I can say to people who want to try chasteberry for PCOS is “well, it’s said to have hormone balancing effects.”
Whatever the hell that means.
BUT – okay – we’re getting to the important part of the post now.
There’s one supplement I get asked about a lot, and I am always happy to answer, since its not only been shown to be fairly harmless and symptom-free, it also may in fact improve your health in a fair number of ways. It may:
Improve skin quality
Mitigate PMS symptoms like depression, breast tenderness, cramping, and weight gain
Lessen the severity of periods
Regulate hormone production
Improve insulin sensitivity
And best of all – cool systemic inflammation.
EPO is not a miracle cure — nothing is! — but there’s a lot of cool biochemical theory behind why it has its place in anecdotal cultural lore. Knowing the biochemistry is awesome because it can help you understand the whole omega6/omega3 relationship and why their balance is good for your health.
Here’s the skinny on EPO, and why you might want to experiment with it for your hormonal and inflammatory needs.
What is Evening Primrose Oil?
Evening Primrose Oil is a pressed plant fat – much like canola oil is. It’s composed largely of omega 6 fat. If this fact raises red flags for you – that’s good. Omega 6 fats, by and large, are fats worthy of trepidation. Most of them cause inflammation in the body. But not all.
In order to understand what’s good about EPO fats, we’ve got to take a step back and look at what your body needs in order to be healthy and happy.
Just about every body process is regulated by hormones and prostaglandins
Hormones are molecules that are made in one place of the body and that typically travel through the bloodstream to act on cells in another place. LH, for example, is produced by the pituitary gland. LH then runs south to tell the ovaries what to do.
Prostaglandins have the same bossy behavior as hormones… but they act entirely within the confines of a single cell.
Body functions that require proper prostaglandin regulation include:
-monitoring blood pressure and viscocity
-managing cell growth and division
-promoting a healthy metabolic rate
-supporting the immune system and
-regulating secretion of hormones
Prostaglandins are synthesized out of fatty acids
So we talked a bit about omega 6s before. Omega 6 and 3 are two kinds of essential fatty acids. Your body cannot produce them. You must consume them. These polyunsaturated essential fatty acids are therefore where it all begins.
Afer you consume a fatty acid, your body uses it to make prostaglandins. Prostaglandins each have different effects on the body. Therefore: the different kinds of fatty acids you consume directly impact your health via prostaglandin activity.
Different prostaglandins and their cellular effects
In general, omeag 6 fatty acids and omega 3 fatty acids go on to participate in production of either inflammatory or anti-inflammatory prostaglandins.
Omega 6 prostaglandins are usually “series 2 prostaglandins,” which inflame the body hard and fast. This is their job. They help with acute swelling, clotting, and dilation.
In small doses, the series 2 inflammation that comes from consuming omega 6s is a good thing. It helps heal wounds. Most of us do not just consume small doses of AA (the culprit omega 6 fatty acid), however. Estimates of American consumption of fatty acids put omega 6 fatty acid consumption, on average for Americans, between 10 and 30 times the amount it should to be.
It is worth noting at this point that saturated animal fats like eggs, butter, and lard can also contribute to series 2 prostaglandin activity. The majority of paleo leaders, however, consider prostaglandin activity in series 2 from natural animal fats to be a perfectly appropriate part of a healthy diet, and I count myself as one of them.
Omega 3 fats like EPA and DHA cause the production of “series 3″ prostalgandins, which slow down the inflammatory response. Most researchers and authors who write about these things liken series three prostaglandins to the “slow lane” of inflammatory activity. Series 2 are the fast lane; series 3 the slow lane.
Series 3 prostaglandins are synthesized out of EPA, which is the omega 3 oil found in fish. Now you can see why it’s so important to keep omega 6 and 3 fats in proper balance. You need your rate of inflammation to be just right. You need some inflammation, but not too much! So eat fish plentifully for its slow-healing effects.
(Do not, however, consume fish or fish oil to extremes, since it’s ideal to keep total omega 3 and 6 intake reasonably low.)
In addition to these two basic categories of prostaglandins, there is one more type. It’s called “series 1″ by some thinkers. Instead of simply participating in fast or slow inflammatory processes, series 1 prostaglandins actively block the fast inflammatory processes of the omega 6 series 2 prostaglandins.
In sum: how Series 1, 2, and 3 prostaglandins interact
Series 2 prostaglandins inflame the body quickly; Series 3 prostaglandins slow the inflammation process down…
and series 1 prostaglandins put the breaks on series 2.
Series 1 prostaglandins can actively halt the hyper-inflaming, hyper-stimulating activity that comes from series 2.
(Hint: guess which series evening primrose oil supports?)
The relationship between Evening Primrose Oil and Prostaglandins
Evening Primrose Oil is composed of fatty acids.
Now, Evening Primrose Oil is mostly omega 6 fatty acid. BUT, one kind of omega 6 found in EPO is pretty special. It’s called Gamma-Linoleic Acid. Evening Primrose Oil contains more GLA than any known substance. GLA may comprise 75 percent of the fatty acids in EPO (!). Other estimates put GLA in the oil at only around 30 percent, which seems a bit more reasonable. Regarldess of the variance, Evening Primrose Oil is one of the only sources of GLA around.
Other good sources of GLA include blue-green algae, hemp, and black currant oil. I am probably not going to be eating any of these any time soon.
GLA is the fatty acid most supportive of series 1 prostaglandin activity. Remember, this is the stuff that can help put a break on inflammation in the body.
GLA is anti-inflammatory and may promote healthy hormone production
Series 1 prostaglandins help prevent hormones from going into hyper-drive, since they down-regulate the frenetic activity of series 2 prostaglandins. This means that estrogen levels – if estrogen dominant – may be able to come down some, and that insulin and testosterone levels can also be brought back down into check.
Now – this is all based off of biochemical theory. No significant studies have been done regarding the effects of EPO on people’s health. Nonetheless the biochemical theory is fascinating, and it seems to support hundreds if not thousands of years of people using EPO to increase fertility, to increase lubrication in their vaginas, to reduce PMS, to clear their skin, to support uterine health, to reduce headaches and to sooth joint pain.
So therefore Evening Primrose Oil…
-has been recommended by people like Robb Wolf and Liz Wolfe (no relation, by the way, if you never knew that) to sooth acne
-is thought to reduce PMS symptoms and heavy periods
-may help blunt insulin resistance
-can help the body regulate its immune response and sooth gastrointestinal inflammation
-can boost fertility via calming insulin and testosterone production, and keeping estrogen and progeterone in better balance
-may not do anything at all, but who knows?
You can check out some EPO on Amazon @ here. I’m not trying to sell you on the stuff, honest. It doesn’t matter to me. I personally don’t take it. Then again, however, I don’t take any supplements save for the occasional magnesium. It’s only that I’ve been asked about EPO a lot, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on it. I am also excited to share the fatty acid information with you, which is helpful for understanding what everybody means when they say “systemic inflammation” and advocating omega 6 and omega 3 balance – bearing in mind that there is of course a lot more to the whole story.
Featured image from wethechange.com.Read More
Two more secret podcast interviews! Stefani’s secret to enduring happiness, why we’re attracted to people, and way, way more.
Last month, I shared with you three podcasts I had kept secret for the last few months.
I’d like to be able to tell you this was because of some grand plan or awesome surprise, but it was really just carelessness and sloth and doing my best (and almost succeeding) to keep up with life.
My apologies, sincerely, to all involved.
Today I bring to you TWO MORE podcasts. These were.. well. epic. And not in that “I’m trying to sell you something that’s actually kind of boring so I’m calling it ‘epic’” kind of way… but actually epic in the epic kind of way.
(Btw – I just wasted ten minutes of my life looking for an “epic” photo to insert here and all I found were “epic boobs” and “epic fails.” Culture ugh.)
See for yourself.
Mind Body Musings
Mind Body Musings is the up and coming podcast of up and coming serious love and health advocate Madelyn Moon. Madelyn used to be a fitness competitor — one of those on a stage and with minimal body fat and stunningly well done photos fitness competitors — but it was killing her.
She was unhappy.
So, she figured out what made her unhappy (hint: it had something to do with the fitness competitions), and she changed it.
Now she records a podcast that focuses on the connection between the body and the mind, and she and I talked all things:
-our own struggles and how hard it is to move away from body image norms
-what’s so punitive and terrible about being a fitness competitor
-how unfulfilling fitness competitions were for Madelyn
-the real kinds of things people are attracted to
AND, one of my favorite ideas ever posed to me on a podcast ever,
-why saying “I am enough” is NOT enough.
(A very smart idea right from the brain of Madelyn Moon.)
So listen in @ here. It’s a wonderful podcast for perspective on taking a self-love journey no matter what stage in it you’re at.
Keep Health Alive
Ok. I don’t want to disparage any of the podcasts from last week, or this week, or any of the podcasts I have ever done (eg, the ever famous one with Liz Wolfe earlier this year), for that matter….
BUT: I am going to go ahead and say that Keep Health Alive was the most enjoyable podcast I have ever recorded.
Justin – the host – is – first of all – a riot.
He’s a day-seizer. A laugher. A go-getter.
We first met (Justin tells this story in great detail in the podcast) at paleo fx. On the very last night of the conference, after several long days of working and networking, I had lasso’d some friends into coming out to salsa dance with me (the only six people from the conference still out partying, I think.) Justin showed up about mid-late evening, so 12:30 ish or so?, coming just because he had been invited… and why not?
Then leapt onto the floor and got down with us with abandon.
For a little bit, anyway.
So one of my favorite introductions, so far as introductions go.
The podcast starts there and moves on. We cover some serious as-yet untrod territory, with topics such as:
-why does Stefani love dancing so much?
-what is the concept of “flow” and how is it one of the keys to being a happy person?
-what is “epistemology”?
… a question to which Stefani responds by giving a quick rundown of the history of Western epistemological thought… I promise it’s not boring, but awesome.
-why I might be moving to Paris
-what my next book is all about
and then some tried and true but awesome favorites, like what it means to be sexy, how to view yourself with a more objective lens, and my favorite tips for overcoming acne.
Check out Justin and me in his top rated “new and noteworthy” podcast @ here.Read More